Lesson 1: Defining the Target Behavior



Learners will identify and define the target behavior.


A behavior intervention plan should be considered if the student's behavior:

  • interferes with the student's learning or the learning of other students
  • persists despite previous interventions
  • is a safety risk
  • results in repeated disciplinary actions
  • may result in a more restrictive placement

Once the decision is made to implement an behavior intervention plan, the next step is to define the target behavior.


Recall that behavior is defined as any observable and measurable act of an individual, bad or good

Recall that target behavior is defined as the behavior that you want to change (what you don't want to see)

The target behavior should be defined in specific and objective terms. The behavior should be observable and measurable.

Definitions should be such that any individual can read the definition and be able to identify when the student is engaging in the challenging behavior.

Remember that an individual can engage in multiple target behaviors that need to be defined! For example, an individual may engage in property destruction (e.g., kicking holes in walls) and aggression (e.g., hitting others with a closed fist). These behaviors are not the same and should be two separate definitions.

Watch: Operationally Defining Behavior: Target and Replacement Behaviors | CI3T Framework


  • Noncompliant behavior: defined as when Evan verbally refuses to comply with directions (e.g., "I'm not doing this stupid math!")
  • Aggressive behavior: defined as when Andrew kicks, hits, scratches or bites others (also includes attempts)
  • Off-task behavior: defined as when Jill attends to activities in class other than assignments


  • Mean behavior: defined as when Matt is mean to his classmates
  • Lazy behavior: defined as when Shawn doesn't feel like doing his work

Learning Task

Read the example below and respond to the prompt.

Shawn has become increasingly disruptive over the past several months. He screams and yells frequently. He has been throwing and destroying items with increasing regularity (e.g., papers, chairs, laptops). He has also been hitting, kicking and biting his staff and peers. When Shawn is engaged in these behaviors, staff must evacuate the classroom. At times, staff have needed to use protective holds with Shawn to keep him and others safe. His classroom team is emotionally and physically exhausted and feel that there is no end in sight.

Define the target behavior(s) in specific, objective, and observable terms.

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